'The lifeline of America:' Truck drivers braving coronavirus outbreak amid shortages
SOUTH BEND, Ind. ---- The coronavirus crisis is increasing the demand for truck drivers across the country. With people panic buying and ordering more things online, the trucking industry has never been more needed to keep critical items on the shelf.
The trucking industry has been troubled by a shortage of drivers since before the outbreak. The American Trucking Association estimates a shortage of about 60,000 drivers in the United States.
Increased demand coupled with the existing shortage means truckers have to work longer hours. The Department Of Transportation has even loosened restrictions on how long drivers can be on the road each day so that supplies can be hauled quickly.
The CEO of the trucking company Premium Transportation Logistics, Jeff Curry, says truckers are needed right now more than ever.
“I think right now it’s very apparent that the items in the grocery store we desperately need, the items in the pharmacy we desperately need got there because someone was in the truck delivering it,” Curry said.
Truckers also face the risk of exposing themselves to the virus while on the job. Even though their work is largely isolated in the cab of a truck, they can expose themselves at places like gas stations and when making deliveries. They often come into contact with shipments that could be contaminated.
“You know we are lucky in a way that truckers are isolated but when you think about what if a driver does get sick?” Curry said. “It’s very problematic. Especially if he’s out and about on the road, he’s stuck in the cab of his truck fighting a virus and that’s kind of frightening to think about.”
Truck drivers can and have gotten the coronavirus which is only amplifying the problem they’re facing when it comes to a shortage of drivers.
John Kearney, the CEO of Advanced Training Systems, a simulation company that helps train drivers to get on the road, has seen it happen.
“We do have drivers getting the virus and drivers who are quitting because of their age,” Kearney said. “We have a bad situation, we need more drivers. If you notice, Amazon is hiring another 100,000 drivers and they are having a difficult time doing it.”
Another difficulty the industry is facing right now is training new drivers because of closures caused by the coronavirus. Kearney says in order for the industry to keep up with the high demand, a lot more people will have to show in interest in trucking.